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New guide on building age-friendly cities

WHO today releases the first guide on age-friendly cities. The guide, which is based on consultations with older people in 33 cities in 22 countries, has identified the key physical, social and services attributes of age-friendly urban settings. Istanbul, London, Melbourne, Mexico City, Moscow, Nairobi, New Delhi, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, and Tokyo were part of the consultation along with many other regional centres and towns.

The publication titled Global age-friendly cities: a guide is being launched in London and in Geneva on the occasion of International Day of Older Persons. Other events will take place over the next 10 days in Buenos Aires, New York and Rio de Janeiro. Cities that collaborated in the consultation are planning to address the barriers that have been identified and many others want to adopt the guide. Led by New York, other cities are exploring what makes cities more age-friendly for increasing older migrant populations.

"Age-friendly cities benefit people of all ages, not just older people, and WHO is committed to disseminating and promoting the implementation of the guide worldwide," said Mrs Daisy Mafubelu, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family and Community Health.

Aimed at urban planners

The guide is aimed primarily at urban planners, but older citizens can use it to monitor progress towards more age-friendly cities. At its heart is a checklist of age-friendly features. For example, an age-friendly city has sufficient public benches that are well-situated, well-maintained and safe, as well as sufficient public toilets that are clean, secure, accessible by people with disabilities and well-indicated. Other key features of an age-friendly city include:

  • well-maintained and well-lit sidewalks;
  • public buildings that are fully accessible to people with disabilities;
  • city bus drivers who wait until older people are seated before starting off and priority seating on buses;
  • enough reserved parking spots for people with disabilities;
  • housing integrated in the community that accommodates changing needs and abilities as people grow older;
  • friendly, personalized service and information instead of automated answering services;
  • easy-to-read written information in plain language;
  • public and commercial services and stores in neighbourhoods close to where people live, rather than concentrated outside the city; and
  • a civic culture that respects and includes older persons.

The growing proportion of older people in our population is an established trend. Their share in the global population is predicted to double from 11% in 2006 to 22% in 2050. At the same time, our world is growing increasingly urban: as of 2007, more than half of the global population are urban dwellers and by 2030 about three out of every five people in the world are expected to live in cities.

These trends are occurring at a much faster rate in the developing world: currently, the number of older people in developing countries is about twice the number in developed countries. By 2050, some 80% of the older people will be living in less developed regions.

"Older people are concentrated in cities and will become even more so," said Dr Alex Kalache, Director of the WHO Ageing and Life Course Programme. "Today around 75% of all older people living in the developed world are urban dwellers - expected to increase to 80% in 2015. More spectacularly, in developing countries the number of older people in cities will increase from 56 million in 2000 to over 908 million in 2050."

The guide is already being used in several parts of the world to initiate age-friendly city development. Networks are being developed in Brazil, Canada, Japan, Spain, the UK, the Caribbean Region and the Middle East.

For further information, please contact:

Ms Carla Salas-Rojas
Communications Officer, Ageing and Life Course
WHO, Geneva
Tel.: +41 22 791 4944
Mobile: +41 76 368 7114

Mr Christopher Powell
Communications Adviser
Family and Community Health
WHO, Geneva
Tel:. +41 22 791 2228
Mobile +41 79 217 3425